LOCKHEED MARTIN and Russian companies Khrunichev and NPO Energia have merged their Atlas and Proton launcher capabilities. International Launch Services (ILS), the new joint venture company, aims to capture 50% of the market by 2000.

The Atlas and Proton will be able to carry single payloads weighing between 2,250kg and 4,600kg into geostationary transfer orbit. The launchers will be in direct competition with products from European rival Arianespace.

There are 24 firm commercial-launch orders for the Atlas and the Proton, compared with Arianespace's 35. The first Proton commercial launch is planned for March 1996. It will carry a previously contracted Astra 1F satellite.

ILS is offering to switch customers from one vehicle to another if there is a problem with one of the launchers. This capability, is available for Hughes HS-601 satellites, which are already manifested to be flown on Atlas and Proton launchers.

The move had been expected following the Lockheed merger with Martin Marietta in 1994. Lockheed had already linked with Khrunichev and NPO Energia to market the Proton and Martin Marietta had taken over the Atlas programme from General Dynamics.

The Atlas and Proton types have been launched successfully on more than 450 occasions, and provide immense "experience and reliability", says Anatoli Kiselev, Khrunichev's director.

Source: Flight International